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Plant City Observer Thursday, May 9, 2013 5 years ago

Relay for Life quilt warms family'€™s hearts

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by: Amber Jurgensen Managing Editor

When Sarah Wheeler was walking a lap with her mother, Charlene, and a family friend at this year’s Relay for Life, they spotted a sign for a quilt raffle.

Sarah, a self-described country girl, always wanted a handmade quilt. So, the trio went over to enter the raffle, a benefit for the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and Friends of Jim Stevens joint team. Sarah gave her donation for a ticket and continued walking.

Little did she know, it wouldn’t be the last time she would see the quilt.

“I didn’t give it a second thought, until the next morning, when mama brought it home,” Sarah says. “I could not believe that I won it. I do win things from time to time but would not say that Lady Luck is always on my side.”

“We were surprised, because most of the entries were parishioners from our church,” team member Quincey Thoeni says.

When Thoeni and other team member learned about the Wheeler family’s story of cancer battles, they knew their beloved quilt was going to the right home.

“They just have such an amazing story,” Thoeni says.

Although the family has been involved with Relay for Life for 13 years, this year’s event was particularly special for the family. Sarah’s mother was unexpectedly diagnosed with colon cancer in June 2012, just six years after Sarah’s father died from the same diagnosis.

“We were blindsided again,” Sarah says. “We had adjusted to our ‘new normal,’ and now, we’re having to redefine normal again.”

Both of Sarah’s grandfathers have been diagnosed with cancer, as well. One is a survivor, and the other died in 2010, from pancreatic cancer.

This year, Sarah’s grandfather and Charlene were able to walk, hand-in-hand, during the Survivors Lap for the first time. The rest of the family ran out onto the track to join them during the Caregivers Lap.

“That feeling is indescribable, though I can say that I was so proud to walk with mama around the track,” Sarah says. “I am blessed to have her.”

The quilt will be traveling with Sarah to Atlanta, where she will be working as a pharmacy practice resident at Emory University Hospital.

The quilt was made by Thoeni’s mother-in-law, Joann Thoeni. Joann is also the mother of the pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Tom Thoeni.

It took about 10 to 12 hours to make the classic nine-patch patterned quilt. Joann makes many quilts for the church, as well as ones for nursing homes and Wounded Warriors. She also makes more than 20 quilts for St. Peter’s Christmas baskets for Meals on Wheels.

Sarah’s favorite aspects of the quilt’s design are the strawberry-patterned pieces.

“I know I will miss my family, my friends, my house, my hometown and knowing where I am at all times, but I know it will all be worth it and will strengthen my faith and my spirit,” Sarah says. “And now, with the quilt I can take a piece of Plant City and a piece of Relay with me.”

Contact Amber Jurgensen at [email protected]lantcityobserver.com.

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